Category Archives: Writing

Apology

“I can only write from the porch of my narrow world.” -x

Not too long ago, someone took exception to something I wrote regarding diet and exercise. She wrote a fierce and compassionate series of personal messages to walk me through her thoughts. I read them all carefully. It’s rare for people to take the time to explain what they’re thinking. She earned much of her opinion the hard way, through life experiences. Voicing her opinion to me also provided me with new things about her that I didn’t know.

Saying nothing is easier. (So is writing nothing.)

I considered what she wrote because she’s smart. She also has experienced some significant obstacles and challenges in life, yet still managed to live a good life. Many of us don’t. Having that kind of person in one’s orbit usually makes everyone live a richer life.

She later felt she had over-reacted. I disagreed. She spoke from the heart. Yes, she bashed me reasonably well. But criticism from people you don’t respect seldom wounds you. It’s just background chatter.

I felt terrible. Her reaction was genuine and not based on a personal attack. That’s rare in people.

Most of the disagreement stemmed from the idea that I was writing for everyone. Or worse, disregarding the immense challenges some people face.

That’s bad writing on my part. I often warn people that I’m not a perfectionist and not a professional writer. That’s not to say that I’m also not wrong. If for no other reason, thinking I was right about things when I was younger, only to discover how wrong I was, taught me that I could just as easily be completely wrong NOW.

For anyone who takes the time and effort to explain to me that I’ve said something stupid, I’ll take the time to read it and consider it. I am a snob about it, though. I have to know that the person writing or talking is motivated by self-expression and a hope that I will understand their ideas.

In this case, she was explaining from a position of wanting me to understand her viewpoint.

I’m sorry I made her doubt herself.

She should continue to speak fiercely. I won’t fault her for it. She’s demonstrated that communication isn’t to wound others. Did I mention how rare that can be?

“It is no accident that those who scream the loudest for you to speak only when you have something positive to say are usually the ones with the most interest in keeping you quiet.” -x

P.S. Not related, but:

https://xteri.me/2014/08/02/09082013-a-list-of-warnings-about-writing-anything/

Girl On Fire

(A love story in 458 words…)

Rhonda and Chris swayed together in the middle of the softly-lit bedroom, his hands across her hips. Neither danced well, but their movements were effortless and graceful. Chris found himself unable to look away from Rhonda’s face.

A few feet away, Rhonda’s phonograph whirled as it played “Like a Bandaid On a Bullethole.” She bought the vinyl album a couple of days before, hoping it would unlock more secret rooms in her heart. For the longest time, she kept the rooms locked; in time, she forgot they existed. When she looked at Chris, she found herself mentally flinging all the doors in her heart open. For the first time, she wanted to throw them open.

Over the last months, Rhonda took the time to make the room her own again. All the past relics slowly diminished and disappeared until one morning, she awoke to realize that the space was now entirely hers. Her grandfather’s lamp, the tree she made, now entwined with fairy lights, and her wall of scarves, each of these things shouted her singular name.

When Chris asked her if she wanted to go on a date, she said, “No. Come over. We’ll cook together, drink some coffee, have a glass of wine, and laugh.” Chris laughed and said he’d like nothing better. And the night had unfolded as effortlessly as one between two close friends. They made pasta, each contributing to the messy process and both doing the dishes afterward. They discovered that they already had a shorthand for movement.

Rhonda took the time to explain her aloofness and reluctance. To her surprise, Chris already knew. “Hurt creates space,” he told her. They looked at each other, smiling, knowing they just had an entire conversation in one sentence.

They sat at the kitchen table, the most unromantic of places, and drank a cup of coffee. Both felt as if they’d done so a thousand times before. Their eyes danced and queried each other as they sipped. Rhonda got up from the table and reached over for his cup, placing both cups in the sink. She reached out with her right hand for Chris to give her his hand. She led him through the living room into her bedroom. She stepped away and placed the needle on the vinyl album. Music flooded the room.

Neither spoke as Chris stepped toward her, already swaying.

As the song ended and the scratchy interim played, “Me On Whiskey” began to play. Rhonda nodded at Chris, who bent his head to kiss her for the first time.

In this new room, surrounded by a new life, and more importantly, new hope. And they danced, in all the ways that two people discovering each other do.

Unsent. Unsaid.

The letter he wrote to her sat on the upper level of his desk like an accusation.

Blake shook his head in irritation. Who was he kidding? He wrote the letter ten years ago on January 1st. The New Year had unexpectedly filled his heart with optimism. He guessed he had picked up the envelope at least twice a day, almost every day, in the interim. For the first month, he opened the envelope carefully and read the letter out loud. Afterward, there was no longer any need. The words were etched in his heart. The outside of the envelope had no address. It merely said, “Karen” in his best block writing.

Everyone laments the things not done, the words not spoken, and the embraces not ventured. Few people have to experience the agony of knowing they’ve taken people and circumstances for granted. That agony could find no worse residence than in his heart. Though the calendar marked the passing of each day, Karen lingered on the fringes of his mind. As a writer, her memory plagued him.

For ten years, he brought a fresh cup of bitter coffee into his private office on the far side of the large house. He sat down in his swivel chair each morning to touch the envelope. Often, he found himself tracing the name Karen with an index finger. His Siamese cat heard him whisper the name Karen so frequently that he sometimes mistook it for a request for him to stretch and jump up into Blake’s lap. Blake was oblivious to the fact that he often said her name like a prayer.

Afterward, he would spend anywhere from an hour to six hours writing the pages his publisher requested. When he finished, he stood up, touched the envelope lightly, and left the room. His next-door neighbor Cassandra, the eccentric lady who cleaned for him, knew to leave the envelope untouched. She asked him about the letter once. Blake shook his head and said, “I can’t talk about her, Cassandra. I just can’t.” She must have noted the melancholy in his voice because she never ventured another inquiry. Cassandra was wealthy in her own right. Blake had no idea why she offered to clean his house twice a week.

Today, Blake sat in his chair, happy that he had avoided the pull of invitations to celebrate the New Year. He picked up the letter, and though he hadn’t done so in a long time, he gave voice to the words contained therein:


~Karen~
I know we were just children when we fell in love. I am so sorry that I didn’t recognize the light you brought to my life. I am writing this letter to you on New Year’s Day because I’m tired of living a life where I forgot to tell you that I still love you. This poor heart has no right to ask that you find a way to ask yourself if you would like a life of appreciation and wonder. I don’t know what your life holds. I hope you are happy and loved. If not, I will wait as long as you need, even if the day stretches into a lifetime. I’ll take the possibility as a gift more generous than the certainty of mediocre love. Love, Blake.

The urge to see the words gripped him. He couldn’t remember the last time he opened the wrinkled envelope. As he pulled the page out, he knew something was wrong. The folded page inside the envelope was a blank sheet of linen paper taken from his box by the dusty typewriter. For a full minute, he sat dumbfounded and stared blankly. “Cassandra!” he thought.

Blake forgot his cup of coffee as he left the private office. He found a jacket in the closet in the expansive mudroom and exited the side door near the large garage. The front door was irrelevant to him. It didn’t occur to him to call Cassandra, not even as he walked across the broad lawn between the houses and knocked on his neighbor’s solid oak door. He then rang the doorbell to the right. Inside, the chime echoed in the tall vestibule. Cassandra’s house was both beautiful and empty. She spent most of her waking hours reading. Blake had no idea that he was her favorite author.

A few moments later, Cassandra opened the door. “Come in!” she said as if Blake made it a habit to knock on her door at 6 a.m. on each New Year’s Day.

Ignoring her politeness, he said, “Where is it?” His voice was surprisingly aggressive.

Instead of asking what he meant, Cassandra simply replied, “I mailed it three years ago, Blake. To Karen.” She smiled.

“You mailed it? How do you know who Karen is? What gives you the right?” Blake’s voice went up another octave.

“I read the letter five years ago, Blake. I was about to stop cleaning your house and figured, ‘What the hell.’ I mailed it three years ago and have been waiting to see what happens.” Cassandra laughed as she said it. “I shouldn’t have done it, I know. But imagine if she had read it and came to you? My, wouldn’t that be a story?”

For an instant, Blake’s mind went blank at the idea of Karen reading the letter he wrote all those years ago. He fought the urge to lash out at Cassandra as he shouted, “Go to hell!” He walked out her front door, leaving it open to the cold January wind.

Blake returned to his kitchen to make another cup of coffee. He absently petted the cat as he stood next to the island, wondering what had possessed Cassandra to invade his privacy. Deciding he couldn’t find an answer, he went back to his office to write.

He sat at his desk for five hours, ignoring the grandfather clock’s chimes as it announced each hour. Both cups of cold coffee sat to his right, ignored, and forgotten. Even the cat gave up hours ago. It was now curled against the heat vent across the room.

As the clock chimed noon, Blake looked up at the envelope holding the blank sheet of paper. From the other side of the house, he heard the doorbell for the side entrance ring. Only Cassandra used that door. Good. He expected some sort of apology. That is what happens when you hire a rich person to be your housekeeper.

Blake took his time walking down the long hallway and through the kitchen. Without bothering to put on his houseshoes, he flung open the door to give Cassandra another piece of his mind. Instead, Cassandra was walking away from him hurriedly, her head braced against the light wind. “Cassandra!” he shouted. She turned and bowed slightly. She then extended her right arm as if beckoning someone.

Cassandra waved goodbye as she continued back to her own house. She laughed loudly.

Blake found himself unable to breathe. Her hair was the same, with more grey. Her face was lit with a smile. She wore a pair of blue glasses. Karen. Walking toward him.

He stood immobile as she walked to him. She wrapped her arms around him and put her head against his chest.

As he looked down slightly, Karen tilted her head to meet his. “Yes,” she said as she kissed him lightly on the lips.

After a moment that defies measure, Karen took Blake’s right hand and led him inside and out of the cold. Forever.

Phoenix (A Story in 888 Words)

Mary sat at her writing desk, one particularly suited to her eclectic style. Every exposed inch was initially covered with ornate, floral wallpaper based on black and gold, followed by hundreds of notes and reminders. The few tears she managed to cry earlier were long dried, salty patches that slightly itched. She hadn’t bothered to wipe them away. By a certain age, you learn that another set will inevitably follow. There were times she expected to see a series of wrinkles on her face forming a dry riverbed.

For fifteen years, she passed countless hours at her desk, her fingers flying furiously and fluently across the remote keyboard in her lap. Though her life was mundane, an unseen muse inside her continuously provided her with an onslaught of romance and flowery language. Those words fueled the fantasy lives of people she’d never meet. They also came from a place she couldn’t quite define. Her words paid the bills, though the skill was accidental. Her muse was her humanity, and she’d never found her own well to be empty.

Until four interminable days ago.

*

The officious hospital administrator relented and allowed her to go to the hospital’s fifth floor to accompany her best friend, Ashley. Her husband of twenty years was dying, dwindling more each day. Ashley managed to keep her wits for a couple of weeks. The idea of her husband dying made her immobile. “I’ll go with you,” Mary blurted out to Ashley. Ashley grabbed her and hugged her until her arms grew tired.

As they entered the room, Mary’s eyes scrutinized the alien medical monitors, tubes, and devices crowded around the bed. Ashley’s husband Mark seemed like a doll in the sheets. Mary found herself being led to the bed by Ashley, who gripped her right hand fiercely. As Mary neared the bed, she was surprised to note that it smelled like plastic in the sun or a recently-opened shower curtain.

Mark was immobile, having spoken his last known word four days ago. As Ashley leaned over him, he said, “Phoenix.” The nurse standing by the head of the bed on the opposite side raised an eyebrow, asking without really asking. Ashley smiled at her, though tears were clouding her face. “It’s where we promised to go to spend our last few years together. We’ve never been.” The nurse nodded. There was no right or wrong response, but her mouth wouldn’t open. Even the most seasoned and hardened heart sometimes couldn’t pierce the silence, lest they risk losing control of the mass of emotion lying behind the wall they created to protect themselves.

Mary stood next to Ashley for several minutes, her arm across the small of her demure back. Ashley leaned in precariously to touch the exposed cheek of Mark’s face. Her glasses slid from her face and fell to the bed. As she bent, a few minor beeps began to ping and buzz. Anyone there could discern a crescendo building in their warning. In moments, a nurse strode into the room.

Mary watched the nurse’s face as she inspected the monitors. The nurse looked across the bed. Ashley’s eyes were riveted on her husband’s face. As the nurse’s eyes locked with Mary’s, Mary saw the fleeting sorrow that passed across her face.

The nurse pressed a small disk at her neck and said, “It’s time. Room 5234.” She stood by the bed, waiting. Moments later, another woman entered the room and stood next to the nurse. Mary whispered, “Ashley, they need to talk to you.”

Ashley raised her head.

“As we discussed, Ashley. Do you want to do it, or do you want one of us to?” The doctor waited patiently.

Mary stood frozen, realizing that she was there to bear witness to Mark’s passing for Ashley.

“You,” Ashley said, surprisingly confident.

The nurse and doctor busily began to press buttons, move sliders, and close off fluid and oxygen flow.

It didn’t happen as it does on television. No monitor marked the decline of functions taking place. The doctor and nurse stood by the bed for another few moments. Finally, the nurse said, “We’ll be outside when you’re ready.”

It was Mary who sobbed when she heard the words, not Ashley.

Ashley reached and found Mark’s right hand and gripped it. She kissed her hand and then pressed it to his face, quickly and lightly. “Okay,” she whispered.

Ashley stood up and hugged Mary. She stepped away and walked toward the door.

“Where are you going, Ashley?” Mary asked, her voice hollow and lifeless.

“Phoenix, for both of us.” She smiled as she said it.
*

Four days later, Mary still sat at her silent desk, the words not flowing, the imagined love-filled lives she effortlessly created all stopped.

In a flash, the image of Ashley’s face as she left the room flooded her mind. She was smiling. In all that pain, she knew she had to find a way forward or crawl into the bed with Mark and die with him.

Mary turned slightly in her chair, placed her nimble fingers on the keyboard, and began to write a new love story, one grounded in an appreciation for a love monumental enough to fuel optimism in life. Her inability to create a life with words was already behind her and forgotten.
.

The Booth

Fletch sat restlessly in a booth near the back of Joe’s diner, a place with food that was close to inedible. He loved the owner, though, a small, wiry woman who seldom hesitated to remind everyone that she was from Alaska. She hurled insults like candy. Today, he was glad to see she wasn’t cooking. She ranked dead last in cooking ability compared to anyone.

“What will you have? Something on the light side? Your pudge is a bit pronounced, Fletch.” In case her words weren’t barbed enough, she pulled at her imaginary love handle on one side.

“I’m meeting someone, so just coffee for now, Ellie. Thanks.” He ignored her insult. He did smile and shake his head, though.

“You’re meeting someone? Didn’t the last girl show you up? I’m going to start charging you booth rental.” She walked away before he could reply. She was a terrible cook but amazingly fast and efficient. He assumed she went to bed at night fully clothed.

Fletch indeed had lousy luck with women. The last two women no-showed, and the last one didn’t call, email, or even pretend to explain. “Ghosted” was the phrase his co-worker offered. At least a ghost has the courtesy to haunt you, he thought. Over the last two years, Fletch lost most of his enthusiasm. At forty-five, love was a picture of a menu inside a window he couldn’t even reach. He endured several dates, horrified looks of surprise when he asked someone out, and empty inboxes and swipes on the two dating websites he foolishly attempted to use. He was outclassed at every turn. He joked that he lost his touch being married for twenty years. The truth was that he never had the touch. His wife asked him out, told him they were getting married, and then failed to tell him she was in love with her dentist. He found out the hard way by finding them on the picnic table in the back yard on July 4th. He hated that picnic table already. Seeing his wife on it in that position convinced him to make firewood out of it.

Ellie returned in five minutes. She put a cup of coffee on the table in front of him. Then, she put a plate of hashbrowns and a hamburger patty with grilled onions next to it. Before he could ask, she said, “Who are you kidding? She ain’t coming. And you’re like clockwork with the patty and onions. And I didn’t cook it!” She placed a finger against her lips to tell him to be quiet. As before, she pivoted, push the empty food tray next to her hip, and marched off. “Hopefully to Alaska,” Fletch whispered.

On a whim, Fletch decided he wanted to try Sriracha on his burger patty, so he got out of the booth and made his way around the “L” of the diner and went to the waitress alcove where most of the good extras were stored. As he passed the register, he heard the doorbell’s chime and the other waitress murmuring with the new customer.

Going back to his booth, he held up the Sriracha bottle to show Ellie, who rolled her eyes at him. “You better have insurance if you’re going to eat that, old man!”

As he neared his booth, he could see that a woman sat with her back toward him in the next booth. She wore an absurd purple hat. Her reddish-blond curly hair cascaded down past the collar of a bright blue jacket. She held a purple cellphone against her right ear. Scooting into his booth, he thankfully realized he could barely hear her soft voice.

He squeezed the Sriracha onto the plate in an optimistic tiny mountain. As he did, he realized he could make out the words of the woman in the booth behind him. “Remember to send a card to Raymund. And another to his Mom. Find the antique desk Joyce wanted tomorrow before you forget again.” Fletch guiltily tried not to listen. Her voice was soft and sweet, like someone who never raised her voice. She continued to murmur for another thirty seconds until Ellie approached.

“Hey, Sarah! Stole another hat, didn’t you?” Ellie was the same with all of her customers. “Do you want decaf this time? I know you get a bit nervous.” Fletch heard Sarah laugh softly. He tried to guess her appearance. He couldn’t imagine based on her voice.

He listened as Sarah and Ellie traded barbs back and forth like an elaborate tennis match. Sarah was getting the best of Ellie, something Fletch thought to be impossible. When Sarah asked her, “Can I buy you a gallon of Oil of Olay, Ellie? Those small bottles aren’t working out for you,” Fletch couldn’t help himself. He laughed loudly and involuntarily.

“Oops!” Sarah said behind him.

Ellie stepped forward a few steps and said, “Eavesdropping, huh? I would have never figured that being a peeping Tom wasn’t enough for you.” She went back to Sarah and apologized for the rude intrusion. They both laughed. Fletch felt his face get hot.

When Ellie marched off, he was surprised when Sarah asked from the other booth, “What’s your name? Is Ellie your mom or what?” Fletch laughed again.

“I wish,” he said. “I’d love to inherit this terrible diner when Ellie dies. It is my dream to serve terrible hashbrowns.” This time, Sarah laughed.

“Oh? How much does being a food critic pay? I’m interested in getting paid for doing what I already do.” She paused to give him a second to consider his reply. Fletch could tell she was accustomed to rapid-fire wit.

“What do you do? The message you left was all over the place.” Fletch instantly realized he admitted to hearing her entire phone call.

“Believe it or not, that message was for me. I’m a stern boss. I find hard-to-find items for people. And they pay me. Can you believe it?” He could hear the smile in her voice.

They continued to talk until Ellie returned with Sarah’s food.

Surprisingly, Ellie put the plate and cup of coffee down in front of Fletch. He arched an eyebrow. “Hold on, buster,” she told him.

She went to Sarah’s booth.

“Sarah, I’d like you to meet Fletch. He is a good guy but got showed up for another date. Besides being the world’s best cook, I am a renowned matchmaker. So, save all of us some trouble and sit and eat with Fletch. The food’s on me, especially since Fletch will try to duck the check anyway.” Sarah laughed loudly. Fletch already loved her laugh.

He felt her weight shift away from his back on the other side of the booth seat. In a couple of seconds, he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Oops,” Sarah said and laughed nervously when she accidentally put her hand on his shoulder instead of the edge of the booth. Sarah smoothly swung herself into the booth.

Fletch looked across at her. She was smiling. He didn’t mean to stare, but her eyes seemed to be smiling at him, too. An awkward pause stretched into several seconds. Finally, Fletch looked away. “I don’t bite,” Sarah said. “Not at first.” Surprised by her joke, Fletch looked back up at Sarah’s face and laughed.

Ellie, who still stood there, said, “See? I told you. I’ll leave you to it.” She walked away. She turned and looked at Fletch. “But I expect to be invited to the wedding.” She cackled in glee as she marched off.

“Tell me about this awesome date you had lined up, Fletch,” Sarah said, still looking at him intensely.

Thirty minutes later, Ellie returned to see that their plates were cold and untouched.

Six months later, she laughed when she opened the envelope to find an invitation to the wedding.

.

.

.

.

.

{Joe’s Diner was in another story I wrote. I wrote a novella about the owner and the place but couldn’t give it the life it deserved. Now, I visit it in my mind.}

The Scarf

Mikel sat in his car in front of the post office, staring out across the street and at the limbs of the trees blowing. The December bleakness that he usually loved felt like it invaded his skin. He watched two young men struggle to load the back of a utility van as they moved inventory from the store across the street. The virus claimed it, too. On previous visits to the post office, Mikel saw a constant stream of customers there. Over the last few months, the visitors dwindled. Like everyone else, Mikel fought against the waves of untimely news and reduced optimism that permeated his life.

Mikel went inside and put his key in the lock. Inside his box were a dozen Christmas flyers and an orange notification slip, one marked 12-18 and advising him he had a package he could pick up inside from one of the clerks. Mikel loved the moment between discovering he had a surprise and finding out what it might be. As he grew older, the likelihood of something noteworthy seemed to diminish, even as his optimism continued to trick him into believing something magical could be waiting.

He needed a surprise this year. As it had for many, 2020 continued to hit him with needless changes and shocks. He had the virus in early May. In June, he lost his dream job, the one he planned to keep for the rest of his life. In July, when he started the new job, he met someone who found him to be interesting, funny, and worth being around. She liked him to call her “Flan,” due to her ability to consume ten of the desserts in an afternoon. Several times they went out, she proved that her nickname was well-earned. She also demonstrated her incredible range of curse words in Spanish, which was both funny and endearing.

In October, Flan’s Mom had a mild stroke and needed medical care. Within a week, Flan moved a few hundred miles away. Just like that, Mikel earned another 2020 kick in the face.

In the last few weeks, Flan started calling him and writing as her Mom improved. They fell in love all over again. Three days ago, Flan called to tell him that her Mom had the virus but wasn’t critically symptomatic. “Be careful, Flan,” he told her. He knew Flan was exposed. “I am. I made you something, Mikel. I hope you like it,” she said devilishly. “Check your box every day!” Those words echoed in his head.

The clerk handed him a soft package. Mikel thanked him with a “Merry Christmas, Burt!” He laughed. “My name is John,” the clerk hollered back and laughed from the thick sheet of plastic hanging between them. Mikel walked back out into the lobby to open the package. For a second, Flan’s real name Marcy confused him when he saw it in the return address. His excitement growing, he placed his items on the long table in front of the window, Mikel started to tear open the package. His phone rang, surprising him. Distracted, he swiped the notification and answered.

“Is this Mikel?” A raspy voice uttered the question.

“Yes, this is Mikel. Who is this?” Mikel loathed calls from people he didn’t know.

“This is Angela. Angela Thompson. Flan’s Mom.” She spoke with no tone whatsoever in her voice. Mikel swallowed down a short gulp of apprehension.

“I hate to tell you this, Mikel. Flan passed away this morning.” Her voice cracked as she forced the words out.

“What? How? I just talked to her three days ago.’ Mikel’s voice became thin as he spoke. He could feel his head start to pound.

“We both had the virus. Flan was more or less okay until yesterday at noon. I called an Uber in the evening, and she went to the Urgent Clinic and then to the ER at the hospital. She went down fast. I’m so sorry.” She stopped talking. Mikel held the phone to his ear, trying to process that Flan was dead.

“Mikel? Are you there?” Angela asked.

“Yes,” he whispered.

“If you’ve not opened the surprise she sent you, it might be better if you don’t. Or wait a few days.” Angela told him.

“Okay… I won’t,” he said, looking at the package and knowing he would open it as soon as he got off the phone. “Thanks for calling me, Angela.” Mikel clicked the ‘end conversation’ button. Since he was in shock, it didn’t occur to him to ask about a funeral, arrangements, or to offer sympathy to Angela.

Mikel picked up his keys and wallet from the long counter, grabbed the unopened package from Flan, and walked outside. The wind hit him as he left the post office. He didn’t notice. Climbing inside his car, he sat with the engine idling. He used his keys to rip the liner of the package and tear it open. Inside, there was a long, soft scarf made of vibrant colors. He pulled it out of the package, laughing. Flan often teased him about his aversion to scarves. There were days she said she could wear four simultaneously. “You’ll love them, you’ll see!” she would say to tease him.

As the scarf came free of the package, a piece of paper fluttered to the passenger seat, face down. Mikel reached for it, knowing it was one of Flan’s infamous notes. She always had a flair for humor and saying the wrong thing in the most right way possible.

He turned the note over and held it above the steering wheel:

Dearest Mikel (spelling doubtful, though you claim it’s correct):
Christmas is here, whether your watch tells you it is the 25th or not. You can feel it in the air! I know 2020 interrupted what would have been a torrid love affair for the ages. Note: I’m talking about us! I know you didn’t have the nerve to ask me the question. So I’m going to do this right. Mikel, though you didn’t tell me, I know you love me. Here’s how to claim this offer. Put on the lovely scarf I made for you (even though you say it will itch) and take a picture with it on. Send it to me with a thumbs up. Once you do that, I will move back after New Year’s. Or you can move here. Either way, we’re going to be together. Whether it is proper or like two love-crazed lovers doesn’t matter. My answer to the question you didn’t ask is “Yes.” Love, Flan

P.S. I don’t know why you are still reading this stupid note. You should be taking a picture by now and saying “Yes” back to me! We’ve wasted enough life already.

Mikel re-read the note. He put it down on the passenger seat and then picked up the scarf and pushed his face into it. Within moments, he was sobbing.

When his eyes had no more tears to share, he sat up and looked out at the cold street in front of him. He imagined Flan sending him the note and scarf, excited by the idea of waiting for a “yes” from Mikel. She even shared her plan with her Mom. Now, she would never get her answer. They’d never share the joyful moment of acceptance. 2020 claimed another life and another love.

Mikel sat in the car in silence.

He would need a moment, maybe a lot of them. When the shock wore off, he would call Flan’s Mom back and tell her everything that needed to be said.

He knew that thousands of people, all across the world, were living moments just like this.
.

For Flan. For you. For all of us.

Do You Have ICS?

“X has ICS,” she wrote.

She’s not wrong; Index Card Syndrome.

I might need medical attention for my affliction.

I am still surprised that most people’s minds aren’t cluttered with a million observations about the people and places in their days. There’s not enough time to consider them, repackage them, and appreciate them. Even with the virus, the one that supposedly slowed the world’s spin a bit, I find myself accelerating toward a crucible that I can’t quite define.

I don’t get writer’s block and I even find myself not understanding how a musician runs out of ideas, lyrics, and brilliance. While watching the new “Selena” series, I rolled my eyes at least 50 times as the musicians struggled to find ideas and inspiration. If we are blocked or stifled, all we have to do is open ourselves up to the great people we have around us. We all survive by collaboration; it’s worth your time to stop struggling and listen to people as they live their lives. There’s enough story here for a thousand books and a library of music.

There’s too much life out here with so many people inhabiting our world in a way that deserves recognition. Humor, love, tragedy, and even the moments when you find yourself organizing your kitchen cabinets on Saturday night all carry weight.

I wish y’all could get ICS too. We could flood the world with our stories.
Love, X
.

The Picture (A Romance in 185 Words)

She did not turn to acknowledge that he was about to snap a photo of her, nor did she tilt her head in disapproval. If she turned toward him, he would assume she disapproved and not take the picture. Instead, she walked slowly toward the sunrise-lit curtains. The part of her life controlled by fear or self-doubt would stay behind her, even if she had to choose an “as if” to propel her.

He gifted her the ability to see herself as imperfectly perfect. In her previous life, she would have hidden herself, stepped behind a door, or refused to be in light sufficient to draw attention. Such refusals inevitably lead to apathy, the architect of so much unhappiness.

Today, though, she crawled from the unfamiliar bed and walked toward the balcony. She knew that the light shone around her in a gauzy corona, giving him an unvarnished view of her. Letting the sheet fall away, she turned toward him. She smiled, one born of genuine acceptance.

Instead of snapping another picture, he tossed the camera on the floor. The camera was no longer necessary. Confidence was its own illumination.

A Darling Christmas Story

“Save that spot for me!” The words echoed in her memory as she stood in the kitchen, staring at the empty rocking chair next to the ornate tree. Though her heart wasn’t in it, Susan begrudgingly pulled out the bins of Christmas ornaments earlier and studiously rebuilt the tree. Her mother’s constant reminder to everyone in the family still lingered in the air, along with scents of fresh pine and the dozens of cookies Susan’s son Sam and daughter Sue baked each holiday season. Last year, they made more than sixty dozen. The pastor of the church could not have been happier. When the kids presented him with a case of cookies, he excitedly informed them he had a freezer for just such a contingency. Neither had the heart to clarify to him that the cookies were intended for the entire congregation rather than the pastor himself.

It was Susan’s first Christmas without her mom. Everyone was supposed to call her mom “Darling,” a name she picked up while singing. The term used to annoy Susan. Total strangers called her mom Darling. Anyone who used her nickname with a bit of creativity earned a famous cackle of laughter from Darling and sometimes a quick kiss on the cheek. Darling loved giving kisses. “Johnny Cash gave me that name. If it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for anyone.” Was the Johnny Cash story true? No one knew. But it might have been.

For the last several years, Darling insisted that the rocking chair be carefully aligned near the Christmas tree and that she be able to claim permanent dibs on sitting there. It was an enviable spot. Not only could the occupant of the rocking chair see outside to watch everyone drive up to the house, but the floor vent was nearby, ensuring warmth that wasn’t guaranteed around the rest of the drafty living room. Factor in the prime observation spot for both passing out and opening presents, and it was the perfect spot to observe everyone. And as everyone found out with Darling, it was also the ideal point from which to bark orders, criticisms, and sometimes, encouragement.

Everyone enjoyed pretending to be unaware of Darling’s rule regarding permanent dibs on the rocking chair. Pastor Evans, who wasn’t faking his ignorance, found himself being unceremoniously harangued in front of a houseful of guests two seasons ago. He tried making his case with her. “Now Darling, there is a wonderful glider rocker over there closer to the kitchen!” She glowered at him and said, “Well, move your keister over to it if it’s so darned comfortable!” The pastor sheepishly changed seats after picking up another cup of famously-strong eggnog. Under his breath, you might hear him tell no one in particular that one had to drink around Darling to keep one’s sanity. This was more memorable because Darling always managed to sneak in another bottle of whiskey into the eggnog. Only Susan was aware she did it. “If it doesn’t ring your gong, why are you climbing the bell tower,” Darling loved saying. More than one person undoubtedly drove home from their Christmas get-togethers with a buzz. Darling could hold her own when drinking. She toured with many rowdy country and gospel singers when she was younger. No one turned the lights off when she was still in the room.

The Friday after Thanksgiving, one of Darling’s neighbors dropped by to give her some leftover turkey. She found Darling sleeping on the porch swing. When she shook her, she realized that Darling had passed away. The coroner advised them that a massive stroke killed her. A full cup of untasted coffee sat on the antique table next to the swing.

Susan considered not having a family Christmas this year, but she knew Darling would be very unhappy to hear of it, especially from her viewpoint in the afterlife. While Susan wasn’t a superstitious person, she dared not risk finding out if Darling could reach her from the other side. Sam and Sue applauded with enthusiasm when Susan informed them that the kitchen was back open for business because Darling would want it that way. Sam chimed in, “We’re going to make a hundred dozen cookies this year, Mom!”

By two in the afternoon on Christmas day, everyone had nervously avoided sitting in the rocking chair, even as a joke. Susan attempted to encourage different people to sit in the rocker. Even her husband’s Aunt Edna refused. Darling’s presence still filled the house. It might never be the same, even though their home was always filled with overflowing conversations, laughter, and the occasional shout.

When Susan’s husband Ed stood by the tree to read 1 Corinthians 13:13, Darling’s favorite, he laughed. “This isn’t a Christmas verse, but it is the one Darling insisted on for twenty years. I see no need to break it.” He recited the passage from memory as everyone in the living room and kitchen stopped to listen. Most had their eyes turned to the empty rocking chair next to the Christmas tree. Although many had endured both rebuke and charm from Darling, most eyes were moist from remembering her.

Susan felt an unseen hand push her toward the rocking chair. Aunt Edna turned from near the coffee table and started to make her way to the chair. Without knowing she was doing so, Susan shouted, “Save that spot for me!” Aunt Edna froze as every head turned to watch Susan walk across the living room and put her hand on the back of the rocking chair. She hesitated and then sat down firmly in the rocking chair.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” She asked. “These gifts aren’t going to hand themselves out, are they?”

In unison, everyone laughed.

Darling was indeed still in the room.

A Romance Novel in 293 Words

The snug warmth of him behind her granted her sleep. She hadn’t known how desperately she needed the sleep of trusting someone. Her hair spread out across the pillow behind her. She woke to him gently touching the strands. She shivered at the sweet intimacy of someone playing with her hair. It centered her in a way she did not realize she had been missing.

He leaned in to whisper to her, a game both of them loved playing. “I figured out the line you need to start your book,” he softly whispered. No one else could hear them. The absurdity of whispering amused them both. Now that they started the game, they wanted to play it out for a thousand innings.

“There are no tiny paragraphs. The smallest increment of spoken intimacy is the phrase ‘I love you.’ Yet it can contain the volume of a lifetime if spoken.”

She turned slightly toward him. “Aren’t you romantic? It’s barely six, and you’re already turning the page.” He laughed.

“I got a head start, watching you this morning.” He leaned in, kissed her quickly on the lips, and then sprang from the bed with his customary energy. He briefly touched her dress from the day before. It hung on the armoire. “Thanks,” he whispered as his fingers caressed the hem.

As he neared the bathroom door, he heard a subtle whisper. He turned.
She had pulled the cover off.

“We have more to talk about if you’re interested.” She winked and smiled at him. He jumped to the bed from where he was standing. She howled with laughter and surprise as his landing bounced her off the bed and back.

Another typical day and another neither one of them would take for granted.